I appreciate the thoughtful and good-tempered discussion of my critiques of qualia. I should confess my bent is somewhat "postmodern," emphasizing Heraclitean strife over *logos* as path to knowledge, and so my sometimes polemical tone is (at least partially) principled.
In the first part of this long post, I offer an overview, and in the second part give specific responses to David Wilson, Joe Jeffreys, Roland Chichowski, Roland Cook and Pat Hayes.
My position is extremely counter-intuitive, and even upsetting. (Believe me, pal, I hope it ain't true!) I am proposing an attitude that goes against good common sense and the very living of our ordinary lives, an attitude in which we relinquish the world-in-common out there. On the evidence of dreams, in which the life-world can be fully authentic, the world must come under Cartesian doubt. Husserl embraces world doubt as a first methodological principle, in his famous epoche. Husserl does not go far enough, however.
Even while he doubts the world ("brackets" his belief in the world), Husserl notes that he goes on living his life believing in the world and insists that he is thoroughly realistic. Husserl's epoche is a purely cognitive trick which paves the way for his Cartesian meditations and method of phenomenological reduction. (See his book called "Cartesian Meditations.") He doesn't make use of world belief in developing the science of phenomenology, that's all, but he goes on believing in the world-in-common.
What I am suggesting doesn't let you go on merrily believing in a world- in-common. That's why it is so counter-intuitive. We have to wrench ourselves to relinquish the quotidian world, to be open to the idea that the world-in-common really is *maya*, illusory. (This is no twin earth gedanken game but serious business!)
No way can we be sanguine about the world. It should be sharply questioned. Recall that the quantum physical description of reality does not give reality world-like properties. Quantum physics has an enormous problem with the world, too; it's called the "measurement problem." The Schroedinger equation doesn't have a place for worlds. You have to get the world ("observables," like meter-readings) by somehow "collapsing the wave function" (Heisenberg, von Neumann, Wigner, Stapp). It leaves an ontological mess with measurements collapsing the wave function here and there. For Henry Stapp the brain is another measurement device.
So our most fundamental and well-confirmed physical theory, quantum physics, has a big problem with the world, too. All the more reason to venture taking the common world to be illusory, and see how things work out down that path.
Now the qualia problem intersects the world problem in this way: The concept of qualia makes a metaphysical distinction between the way the world really is (the way science says) and our conscious experience of it (where qualia come in). The world here is not problematic, qualia are. But as I have been trying to show (and more below in II), qualia are merely theoretical entities not actually found in our experience. Our attention is accordingly directed back toward the world and its qualities, which is where the problem lies for both consciousness studies and quantum physics. Forgetting putative qualia, we remember presence of the world with all its qualities (ending what Heidegger calls *Seinsvergessenheit*).
Here's an overview of my position. (1) Reality is not world-like. (I deny the charge of "idealism" in II; reality is not mind-like either.) (2) The world-in-common is an illusion. (3) Parallel worlds are unfolded in the matchings of quantum field interactions supported by brain biosubstrates. So worlds are derivative rather than a primary reality. (4) There are no perceptual qualia, only world qualities. (5) "Ex-perience" properly denotes only the facticity of world thrownness, nothing mental. (6) Con- sciousness has to do with language, community, self-reflection and thought, not perceiving the world. (7) It takes a great and continual effort to try and keep all of this straight, and hopefully surpass modernity. Thanks to JCS-Online for supporting discussion.
Suppose I have lost a leg and have phantom limb pain, and David Wilson is examining me. Both David and I *see* the leg is gone, but there is something in my world not present in his: I have a leg that feels painful, which is every bit as much part of the world as my other leg, even more so.
But wait a minute, isn't pain a sensation, something mental, a quale, if anything is? I don't think so, but it takes some work to see this. It is much easier to understand the concept that color resides in the surfaces of world objects, not in the mind, than to get the concept that feelings like pain pervade a particular world object, the body part. I feel the pain in my leg, not my mind, and my painful leg is part of the world, just like my good leg, only I can't see it. So phantom limb pain is a world quality.
A converse situation occurs if I have hemi-neglect. Here both David and I see the left half of my body, but that part of the world is no longer pervaded with bodily qualities and so doesn't feel like part of my body, so I deny that it belongs to me.
Thus the body is part of the world, a part of the world with qualities like pleasure and pain (not pleasurable and painful sensations across an ontological divide from the world, which is the dualistic view typical of "metaphysics," as Heidegger and Derrida see it). Phantom limb pain and sensory hemi-neglect nicely illustrate my thesis.
David says I sound like an "idealist," when I state: "There is no self- subsisting world in common out there, only parallel worlds within sporadic brain monads." [I appropriate "monad" to mean a plenum of possibilia from which actualia derive.] But I am not saying the primary reality is mental! Quite the opposite! To say there is no "self-subsisting world in common out there" is not to say there is no reality; there is a physical reality, but it's not world-like (which is where I relocate the qualia problem). I am a scientific realist through and through. There is a reality-in-common out there but it has no qualities, and that's a problem. Where the world comes in is as a consequence of brain activity, so wherever there are brains, worlds light up in parallel. I insist I am every bit as realistic as David, but for me the world (even though it "works") is not true reality, and to think so is to be ensnared in *maya*.
Roland Cichowski thinks maybe I don't mean this maya stuff, BTW, but I really do, just not in the conventional idealistic way. I don't mean that the world-in-common is illusion and mind the true reality. I mean the world- in-common is illusion and physical reality, which is true reality, is something else utterly unworld-like, which comes under quantum field description for microscopic and macroscopic objects (pace Umezawa).
Joe Jeffrey's post illustrates how terribly difficult it is to get rid of mental/physical duality in our thinking. Joe insists that in eating his strawberry sorbet he has *private* experiences which we can't observe whereas a bear on his desk would be something public. This is the traditional view: experience is private and the world is public.
I am saying something very different: World is irrevocably private to each of us and experience is just always finding ourselves already in our (private) world. Experience is not something mental, and we only end up confusing ourselves when we speak of "conscious experience."
Joe holds that the burden of proof is on me "to show that I [Joe] did not have the experience of that sorbet that I remember having." But that's not my claim. Of course Joe "experienced" the sorbet. The issue is what "experience" means in his illustration of "the feeling of the sorbet on my tongue, the taste, the cold feeling as it slid down my throat, and so forth." The tongue and throat are part of the body which is in the world; again, Joe's description is properly construed as of world qualities, not mental qualia.
The privacy of Joe's ex-perience (my sense, not his) is a rather trivial property. The world object called "Joe" has a strawberry quality in the mouth region whereas the world object called "Gordon" has an onion quality in the mouth region left over badly from lunch. Different parts of the world, different qualities, some good, some bad. Nothing mysterious here.
Joe is somewhat incredulous about my stance: "Surely you do not want to rule out the ordinary concept of experience as it is used all the time...the ordinary intuitive notion of experience as the 'interior events'...?" Ye Gods I do! Its the ordinary concept of experience that's been obstructing progress forever and ever, and should be mercifully *vergessen* already! Nu?
Roland Cichowski says, ok, perhaps the sound of a clarinet with earphones is located between the ears "but does that mean that we are not to ask what that sound is?" I hate to sound like a broken record but sound is a quality of the world, whether the sound of the computer fan to my right or the wailing sound between my ears. Our language, under the hegemony of metaphysics, makes us think there is something in addition, a sensation of sound, but honest to God, the only sounds are sounds of the world. Anything more is merely theory. [Language is so co-opted by what postmodernists call metaphysics that Heidegger would actually write a certain word, cross it out, and leave the crossed-out word in the text, and Derrida, forced to use certain words since no others are available, would do so only *sous rature* (under erasure).]
Roland, constrained by metaphysical blinders, sees the argument as between two perspectives you might want to take about things: "We can say that the world is a reality and that consciousness grows out of it. Or, we can say that consciousness is the reality and it creates the world." He, too, wants to make an idealist of me, which completely distorts my position. My claim instead is that the world is illusion and nothing grows out of illusion except more illusion; conversely, consciousness is illusion which can only create more illusion. Reality, I claim, is not world-like. World is brain-hoisted in the match of quantum field interactions reflecting reality, memory and cognition (as outlined in an earlier post). And as for consciousness, forget it (except in the sense of con-sciousness where language, community, self-reflection and thought come in, not qualia. See Greg Nixon.)
Roland also objects to my dim view of metaphysics, which view I have admittedly not defended, since this can be found in the large body of postmodern critiques of modernity, e.g., Heidegger's "Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics," Derrida's "Of Grammatology." I am trying mightily to maintain focus in this discussion.
Roland: "If you take someone who has been blind from birth, give them a tomato and tell them it is red, they have no concept of what you mean at all." Agreed. Folks born blind have always found themselves already thrown in a world lacking colored surfaces, whereas sighted folks always find themselves already thrown in a world with colored surfaces. Why should Roland insist that the sighted *in addition* have an experience of color? The facticity of world thrownness suffices completely in either case.
Roland: "I take it you mean that the parallel worlds are linked in some way and not totally separate and individual to the monad brains." No, there are numerically as many human worlds as there are human brains, but they are more or less coherent. Two individuals with more or less the same inputs from reality, more or less the same memories and having learned more or less the same cognitions, will find themselves thrown in more or less equivalent worlds, though numerically distinct. Yes, there is a single unworldlike reality, over against multiple parallel worlds, but retinal inputs expressing reality simply do not participate in the unfolding of worlds for blind persons, and so their worlds are different from those of sighted persons.
Roland Cook (RC) kindly wants to help me with my confusion by asking some questions "just for a start." "If the object in the world has color, do the wavelengths of light also have color?" No "ifs" about it. The typical place color is found is on object surfaces. But wavelengths don't have color. Spectral reflectivity contrasts, as David Wilson and Pat Hayes specify, *correlate* with color, but a wavelength is not a color. It's a category mistake to think so, and that's the problem I'm trying to dissect out. (When Bro Pat says that color "is a property of surfaces defined by spectral reflectivity contrasts" he slips into the dreadful category mistake, but family is forgiven...)
And how do these wavelengths of light "get into the brain?" RC asks. They trigger biochemical processes and end up as Bose-Einstein-like Froehlich condensates in quantum fields hoisted by brain biosubstrates, entering into quantum field interactions.
RC continues, "and how does the brain perceive the color of the wavelengths of light reflected from the object?" By unfolding worlds with colored surfaces amidst which we always find ourselves already thrown. The question is ill-posed because wavelengths of light are not reflected from objects; the question's conception is classical. Wavelengths of light come under a quantum field description where there is no provision for classical objects. (In wave terms, there are macroscopic wave functions but these are not world-like. In Umezawa's quantum field terms, there are macroscopic objects described by Bogoliubov transformation of the quantized field, but these again are not world-like.) The brain's retinal transducer interacts with the electromagnetic field and in due time, after several participants interact, we find ourselves thrown in a world with colored surfaces.
Bro Pat honestly insists, "I'll never relinquish the world: I'm more sure of it than I am of me." His advice? "...just keep the realist faith and keep hackin' away at the details." Bad advice, keep the faith in Kuhnian normal science, when revolution is what's called for...